Many of the bikes shops we talk to report that gravel bikes are hugely more popular than road bikes these days and this interest keeps on growing. The key reason seems to be that as road bikes have progressed to be lighter, stiffer and more aero, they have also become less practical for most roads and almost all gravel/dirt. Not so long ago, many riders would happily ride their road bike along a gravel section to get back onto another road, but the extremely focussed bikes of today are less suited to the road less travelled.
If you’ve ever hit a pothole on your roady, it’s the most terrifying feeling.
Welcome to the ‘Gravel Culture’
When Ian Boswell retired from road racing in 2019 and said ‘‘there is a new culture in gravel cycling and I want to participate in it” he was right in saying it has become its own culture.
Road riding and racing is amazing, but there is something very different about riding based on being lost, finding an amazing new dirt road and forgetting about your average speed and wattage.
None of us were particularly interested in gravel riding, until we tried it. It’s better described (for us at least) as making some of our standard rides, more fun. Gravel bikes are very competent on the road, and you can connect and build your rides adding dirt roads, fire trails and some mountain bike single track.
As much as it may be considered sacrilege to some road riders, a growing number of us do our training rides and social rides on our gravel bikes, even if it’s all on road. Having a 32-50mm tyre on a bike on a bumpy or potholed road is very forgiving and although somewhat slower, its worth it to avoid breaking wrists or collar bones on bad roads.
All bikes are gravel bikes, if you ride them on gravel.
The best thing about gravel is you can just put some 32’s on an older bike and you are off and away. If you buy a gravel specific bike, the geometry will be much less aggressive, and you will likely have room for tyres up to 42mm in the back and 50mm on the front.
Lots of riders prefer flared bars for more stability on the drops, and perhaps a higher bar height.
Gravel bikes for racing are possibly more focused on speed and weight, but there are plenty of steel and aluminium bikes that allow a more cost-conscious entry into riding.
For many people, the wider tyres just feel create the perception of feeling far more stable and in control.
The Gravel Kit
With gravel bikes filling the void between road riding and mountain biking, it’s unsurprising that the kit used for gravel riding draws influence from both disciplines.
In the same way that a mountain bike can happily trundle down a tarmac road but a road bike will do it faster, your road or mountain bike kit will likely suffice for a gravel ride. However, gravel bike clothing is designed for the task at hand and will invariably perform better.
The versatility of the niche opens up a broad range of requirements on gravel bike clothing. Gravel riders have the freedom to pick from both sides to curate a perfect outfit for their own gravel adventure
We’ve heavily embraced the gravel riding kit and most of us wear gravel shirts on our weekend social rides. These feel comfortable on the bike and look the part at the post ride café stop (or sneaky pub stop).